special Transportation and Planning Committee hearing in Kaneohe on Wednesday evening (image: Hawaii News Now)
Jay Morford, President of Hawaiian Memorial Park speaks at meeting (image: Hawaii News Now)
resident of Pohai Nani speaks (image: Hawaii News Now)
KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
A divided community came together in Kaneohe Wednesday evening to testify before city councilmembers about a cemetery seeking a zoning change to use more land for more graves.
More than 100 people showed up for a special Transportation and Planning Committee hearing on an amendment to Bill 57 (2016). Opponents of the change say it would allow the cemetery to build on conservation land.
It's a battle stretching back for nearly a decade.
In 2009, Hawaiian Memorial Park submitted a request to the city to rezone the conservation land into parks, golf courses, and cemeteries. The city declined those modifications. In addition, the State Land Use Commission has ruled in our favor, and has turned down Hawaiian Memorial Park’s request to convert the land out of conservation.
Many are upset the cemetery isn't giving up.
“We were here a few years back fighting the same fight. I don't want to do this 10 years from now when they come back and want more land," said one testifier.
“Conservation land is conservation land. I'm against the expansion," she said.
Jay Morford, President of Hawaiian Memorial Park, said Wednesday this is a new plan from what was submitted in the past. However, Morford said a “formal plan” wasn’t ready to be shown.
He said the park is currently at 91-percent capacity and in desperate need for more space. He projected it be at 100-percent capacity by 10 years.
Many people in the audience were concerned the park is running out of space for loved ones.
"We need a place to bury our family…we want to be with our families and our resting place right now is here in Kaneohe," said a testifier.
Morford said the key changes include not expanding to a nearby retirement home and a residential area.
"I know that Pohai Nani has some serious concerns about the cemetery joining up to their property and I know there's many of them here this evening, which I'm happy about to let them know that our proposal in the future will not include the 20 acres of cemetery property that will go up adjacent. We're completely taking that out of the project,” said Morford.
A Pohai Nani resident in the audience still testified against the expansion.
"HMP has been very persistent in their expansion proposals…the only supporters are those groups that would expect some financial gain through business or stewardship grants," he said.
"Hawaii is very limit in size. Unlike Texas, our environment is very fragile and we hold the honor of being the endangered species capital of the world," he added.
Morford also said his prior plan had a minimum 50-foot buffer zone to nearby homes. Now, he's promising a 150-foot buffer zone.
The city Transportation and Planning Committee deferred action Wednesday night saying they want to wait to see a concrete plan of the proposed changes.